In Hollywood, Ralph Winter is known as a producer of such well-known hits as X-Men, X-Men 2 and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
But in his home congregation – Montrose Church in Montrose, Calif. — he is known as the Sunday School teacher who leads a class each January and February examining movies from a biblical perspective.
Not surprisingly, it’s often standing-room only. That’s partially because Winter has 44 movies, TV shows or documentaries to his credit as a producer, including four X-Men movies, four in the Star Trek series, and two Fantastic Four films. He’s also been a producer on several projects with explicit Christian content, including The Promise, Captive and Thou Shalt Laugh.
Winter said he wants to help Christians think more critically about what they watch.
“The class looks at the Academy Award Best Picture nominees, so for you to come to my Sunday School class, you need to see the Best Picture nominees, bring your Bible and then we talk about it,” Winter told the Christian News Journal. “What’s the movie about and how does that match up with what we believe as Christians? And it’s always a lively discussion: What’s the intent? What’s the story about? What’s the journey about? The class loves it. People want to engage. They’re watching these movies and they want to understand why they do or don’t like what they’re seeing.”
Too often, Winter said, people are led astray by movies. As an example, he points to the 1999 box-office sensation The Matrix, which has Christian elements but at its heart “is not about Christianity,” Winter said.
“That movie is about salvation coming from within,” Winter said. “That’s not what we believe as Christians. We need a Savior. We need salvation from outside of ourselves. … [The class] is about how do we become better consumers, how do we build our skillset in understanding what movies are about? Otherwise, we can be distracted by the shiny things.”
Winter knows that many Christians are skeptical about movies. Still, he thinks Christians should strive to understand and critique movies because of their role in society.
“The best story wins in our culture,” he said. “That’s what cuts through. And a lot of times, the agenda-driven propositional truth that we try to promote – as, this is what you ought to do to become a Christian – just doesn’t ring through for a lot of people. And yet, telling stories does.”
By better understanding the themes behind a popular movie such as Les Miserables, he said, “you can engage with people about a spiritual dimension of that.”
“There’s plenty of stuff in the culture that we just need to be cognizant of and see what gets attention and why it’s important and why people are responding.”
Winter also teaches a class at Fuller Seminary about theology and film. Recently, the class examined the movies Up and Adjustment Bureau.
“We talked about free will and destiny, digging into what those are,” he said. “We put those in play with a book like Ecclesiastes. How does that work out? It’s really fun and interesting.”
— Michael Foust
Foust has covered the film industry for more than a decade. Visit his website, MichaelFoust.com